Every time I see someone say something about Little Rock, AR, it always brings to mind this song from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Which, after the most recent time got me wanting to rewatch and say a few things about this movie.
My ex-wife LOVED Marilyn Monroe and we had a house full of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia… and a copy of every single movie she was in. Some of these movies were not bad. Of course I already enjoyed the Billy Wilder films Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch. Some like Niagra, Bus Stop and The Misfits weren’t bad either. However I’m not a big fan of musicals so I didn’t much go for How to Marry a Millionaire and was hesitant about Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was, however, the very first Marilyn Monroe movie I ever watched and as far as an introduction to an actress’s filmography goes it was the best choice. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is her most iconic role.
After small roles here and there, like a part in All About Eve or in the Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business, she made her breakthrough as a leading lady in 1953’s Niagra. However it was her performance in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that made her a star. Everyone fell in love with Marilyn’s coy voice, innocent demeanor and beauty – absolute beauty. It also helped that she starred opposite the talented Jane Russell and the two women with conflicting personalities played off each other quite nicely. Betty Grable was originally cast in the role but with the rising success of Monroe after Niagra the studio switched stars (interestingly Monroe would star with Grable later that same year in How to Marry a Millionaire). Monroe was bound to be a star regardless – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes didn’t create Marilyn and if that role had gone to Grable we would still talk about Marilyn with the same reverence and awe we do today – however the visual aesthetic that is Marilyn Monroe, the way pictures remember her begins with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Marilyn Monroe had a brief but exciting career, working with directors such as Howard Hawks (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Otto Preminger (River of No Return), Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, The Seven Year Itch), Laurence Olivier (The Prince and the Showgirl) and John Huston (The Misfits). She worked with other great actors such as Robert Mitchum, Jack Lemmon, Clark Gable and Eli Wallach. Marilyn is known for playing the stereotypical “dumb blonde” though many of the characters she played (like in River of No Return for instance) are strong, memorable women. After 1953 all of the movies Marilyn Monroe starred in are enjoyable and while I would normally fanboy over the Billy Wilder classic Some Like it Hot or that iconic white dress subway scene from The Seven Year Itch – my favorite film from her career is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I’ll admit though that my enjoyment of this movie actually has very little to do with Marilyn.
The story involves two best friends showgirls, the spacy gold-digger Lorelei Lee (Monroe) and the down-to-earth Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell). Lorelei is engaged to a naïve nerd named Gus who loves her deeply though he’s under the control of his upper-class father who does not approve. Lorelei and Dorothy take a cruise to Paris for a show and along the way become involved in various adventures including a private detective trying to catch Lorelei in a compromising situation – a private detective who ends up being a nice guy by the end. It’s a romantic comedy and ends happily with a double wedding as Lorelei and Dorothy each marry the man they fall in love with through the course of the film.
While Monroe is great in her role, Jane Russell is what I like best. Lorelei is on this trip to flirt with wealthy men (though she is engaged and respects that) because she is attracted to money and has a passion for diamonds. She believes that a rich husband is the best way for a woman to succeed economically. Down-to-earth and single Dorothy, however, is only attracted to men who are good looking and fit.
While this is Hays Code era Hollywood, it’s quite clear that Dorothy’s goal on this trip is to get laid. She loves men, loves their physique, loves physical situations; the woman is horny. This is best shown in her musical number “Is There Anyone Here For Love,” where she watches a Men’s Olympic team practice, all very fit and wearing just the tiniest little swimsuits. She tries her damnedest to get their attention, rubbing against them and singing all about the wonderful male physique and pleading “is there anyone here for love?” While the movie abides to The Production Code and doesn’t out right say it – this gal wants to get laid, desperately. “Is there anyone here for love” equates to “please, someone, fuck me.” She wants one of these tough, muscle-bound studs to just take her and have his way with her body. Which I suppose would say a lot about gender roles but this was 1953 so there’s no point bringing that bullshit up.
Jane Russell’s casualness with everything about this character is more delightful than anything else. Dorothy Shaw has no fucks to give about anybody or any of their business and it’s awesome. This character is witty, outright mocking ignorant rich people, only really caring about what she wants (which is sex – the script says marriage but really she’s just talking about getting dick half the time), being more bold and brash than women of 1953 were expected to behave. Quite a few times people refer to Dorothy’s behavior as being “unladylike,” but I think her actions are, by contemporary standards at least, as ladylike as a woman could possibly be. While Lorelei wants to exploit her femininity to snag a rich guy and surround herself in the female accoutrements of fine dresses and diamonds, Dorothy just wants to be herself and get whatever she wants. The independence Jane Russell brings to this role is delightful.